68. Olympic Sportswear 'Shine' (1998-99)
I'm not sure to what extent you're familiar with the name Olympic Sportswear. Chances are you're largely unfamiliar with it, and I'd probably have joined you in that category myself until I had to write this article. What I did know was that Olympic Sportswear made the kit worn by Portugal during Euro 96, a fact made all the more reasonable when you discover they're a Portuguese company, albeit one that spent much of their time trying to break into the Belgian market from the mid-1990s onwards.
Having wedged a commercial foot in the door in England around the same time, they set about the business of gaining the trust of all current and potential suitors. This they did by creating smart, safe kit designs that occasionally gave way to offerings of greater frivolity.
From left: Dundee United (1998-99 home and away), Northern Ireland (1998-99 home).
Evidence of this can be seen in their one-season wonder that was worn by five English clubs, plus the Northern Ireland national team. It featured a shirt whose main eye-catching detail was a series of curved, pointed shards, an arc, a mixture of negative space and white space, colour and monochrome gradients. Blended together, the effect was peculiar, yet genuinely alluring.
This abstract motif was echoed on the back of the shirt, the opposite shoulder and the opposite leg of the shorts to create a continuing theme throughout the whole kit. Overall, the template was balanced, interesting to look at and made great use of colour. This latter point was achieved by changing the hue of one or both sleeves in contrast to the body, a tactic employed on the shirts of Scarborough and Rushden and Diamonds, to name but two.
From left: Northern Ireland (1998-99 away), Rushden and Diamonds (1998-99 home and away).
To create further distinction between versions, a range of different collar styles were available with inherent trim decorations also provided. But the star of the show was undoubtedly that conceptual design in the lower corner of the shirt. To me, it always looked like an oil-on-water effect somehow, and one that looked nothing like anything seen on any other football shirt.
It's therefore a shame that the design only seemed to last for one full season, and largely by club teams who, to put it mildly, would like to have been enjoying better fortunes at the time. At the end of the 1998-99 season, Scarborough placed 92nd of 92 in the Football League, with Southend United only six places above them. Rushden and Diamonds reached the third round of the FA Cup but were yet to break out of the Football Conference, while north of the border, Dundee United only narrowly avoided relegation to the Scottish First Division.
From left: Scarborough (1998-99 home), Southend United (1998-99 home and third).
What Olympic Sportswear needed was for a Premier League team to be wearing this template to give their design prowess more exposure, but alas it was not to be. In 2000-01, their presence in English football ended with Luton Town, after which they disappeared, never to return. What a shame. They clearly had confidence in what they were doing, and their invention and creativity would surely have been better appreciated if things had worked out differently.